Research perspectives

Research shows discrimination against religious employees common in many workplaces

New research into religion at work, examining the experiences of 6,315 workers in the UK and the US – including ed Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh employees – has found that when employees expressed their religious identity at work, nearly a third (32%) had a negative experience – including being the subject of mockery, exclusion, stereotyping and discrimination.

The Religion at Work report from business psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola also found that 

  • nearly half of respondents felt uncomfortable discussing at work the religious festivals they celebrate 
  • of the 3,400 respondents who wore religious dress or symbols, 64% were not comfortable wearing them in the workplace
  • When it came to taking time off to celebrate religious holidays or festivals, one-fifth (19%) said they had a request to take annual leave rejected
  • Christian respondents were more likely to find employers happy to allow annual leave requests for holy days – more than two-thirds (69%) – while only 25% of Hindu respondents agreed.
  • Nearly a third of Muslim respondents (31%)  felt requests for time off for religious holidays and festivals were rejected without good business reason, an experience shared by 25% of Sikhs, 23% of Hindus, 20% of Jews, 14% of Buddhists but only 2% of Christians.
  • Overall, 38% said their organisation could do more to be more inclusive of people of different faiths

Pearn Kandola also used a nationally representative sample of 2000 British workers to understand perceptions around religion, society, and work. It found that nearly 19% of people had witnessed someone being judged because of their religious beliefs in the workplace. The most common types of discrimination witnessed were religious colleagues being the butt of jokes (32%), being isolated or excluded from activities (23%), being denied annual leave for religious festivals (22%), being told not to wear religious clothing (22%), mocked for the food they eat (20%) or being asked to remove religious symbols (19%).

The report’s author, Professor Binna Kandola said: “It’s extremely disappointing to find that people of all faiths are likely to experience discrimination or have a negative experience at work. While organisations realise the benefits of developing diversity and inclusion strategies, many seem to be falling short when it comes to creating an open and inclusive environment for people of faith.” He hoped that  the findings would be a “wake-up call” and prove to be a catalyst for organisations to take steps to improve the experience of employees with a religious belief.